Domestic Violence Awareness Month evolved from the first Day of Unity observed in October, 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect battered women’s advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. The Day of Unity soon became a special week when a range of activities were conducted at the local, state, and national levels.
These activities were as varied and diverse as the program sponsors but had common themes: mourning those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrating those who have survived, and connecting those who work to end violence. In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed.
This month my friend and coworker wanted to share her story of domestic violence publicly for the first time. Through telling her story, she hopes to offer hope to other people who have been or are in an abusive relationship and to also provide awareness that this is an issue that continues to haunt women and men and we need to end it.
According to Safe Horizon (www.safehorizon.org) 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence. Women are more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. I am included in all but one of these statistics.
Black and blue bruises. Those made frequent appearances on my skin. The first time he hit me, he managed to break three ribs and left me dazed on a bedroom floor. From the time I was 20 until I turned 24, I became a human punching bag to the person who professed his undying love for me. He knew how to keep an inexperienced and confused young girl under his hold. He preyed on my insecurities. Like most relationships, in the beginning everything was perfect. I was bubbly, outgoing and surrounded by friends. I was your usual 20-something year old who was in search of discovering the woman she was inside. However, the journey to discovery would soon come to an abrupt halt.
I was no longer watching the unfortunate circumstance of the woman next door— I became that woman. Each time he struck me, he would tell me how his actions were my fault. After all, I provoked him, right? He made it a point to always remind me of my worth. He would tell me how purposeless I was, how I would never amount to anything in life. He said that no other person would ever love me because I was worth nothing. He kept me clenched tightly in his grip. It was as if he felt a rush breaking me down, crushing me physically and emotionally, until there was nothing in me from him to crush.
I grew more and more insecure. I was overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment for something I allowed to happen. So I went on in silence. I was at a point in my life where his words became my own thoughts. I started to feel the way he described me. I felt purposeless and worthless. I allowed him to own my thoughts and desires. I felt empty inside. I was not longer in charge of myself— he was.
The relationship was a full force vicious cycle. Each incident was followed up with extravagant gifts, from expensive purses and shoes, to clothing and high-end jewelry. It was his way of saying, “I’m sorry for beating the shit out of you.” In his twisted mind, this would repair the damage done. But it did not change anything. It did not stop him from brutalizing me and tormenting me. Each time the cycle completed and restarted, I fell deeper into a dark hole.
My girlfriends never knew that behind my smile, I was suffering. I did a good job at perfecting my poker face. I hid my emotions and true self so that he would continue to look like the perfect boyfriend. I acted differently, I knew what would be ahead.
Deep inside me, I wanted out. I was tired of the daily, unhealthy saga. Something inside me knew I deserved a better life.
One summer afternoon at work, I found myself in deep thought. It was just my co-worker and I in the office. It was a quiet afternoon because the office was closed for business. As the calm and peace around me settled in, my eyes overflowed with tears. My bottled emotions busted out. I wept and wept until I couldn’t weep anymore. My co-worker wrapped her arms around me and said, “I don’t know what you are going through, but I can see it hurts. Just know that you are strong. You can change your situation. Take back what belongs to you.” I gripped her tight. That moment was my breakthrough. I began to tell her what I was going through. I unloaded everything. She listened and cried with me. It was at that moment that I had found myself again. I felt empowered. I was ready to change my situation and face it full force. It was that moment where I found refuge. For the first time I allowed those around me to help pick me up. I unveiled who and what I was at that time. I kicked shame to the curb and embraced healing. My friends were my support system and my family was my strength.
The last time he struck me, I vowed never to go back. That time I had enough, it was my breaking point. I clung on to the support and love of my friends and family. For once I was in control and I succeeded. I gave myself the opportunity to be free from the acts of a heartless and selfish human being. More than anything, I was determined to be a survivor, not a statistic. This part, I won. As the years have gone by, I have been faced with other hurdles to overcome. It has been a process. A process I am still working through within myself. However, without a doubt, life has been much better since I left my nightmare. I am blessed beyond measure. I have accomplished so many things in my life that I would have never imagined. This experience has truly changed me for the better on so many levels.
Since then I have freely shared my story to other women who are going through the same situation or have been victims of domestic violence. Sharing my story is a form of healing and closure; I look at my story now as an experience that taught me a valuable lesson. I also underwent a six-week training through WEAVE (speakers bureau) to educate communities about the support and resources that this non-profit offers and the dangers of staying in a relationship where domestic violence is a reoccurring behavior. I stand today, not as a victim, but as a survivor.
If you are in a violent relationship here is my advice to you:
1. Talk to a trusted friend or family member.
2. Seek a support group such as WEAVE or any other organization for battered women/men.
3. Do not give the abuser any indication that you are thinking of leaving.
4. Set aside a bag with your most essential needs (i.e., clothes, shoes, money).
5. Get a restraining order.
6. NEVER GO BACK!
For more information or assistance with domestic violence:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline- 24 hrs- 1-800-799-SAFE(7233)
Safe Horizon Hotline- 24/7- 1-800-621-HOPE(4673)
** Lisette has been happily married for seven years with two beautiful children, four and seven. **